I was blessed to have the Mexican neighbours I did where I grew up in California. It is partly thanks to them that I have the passion for cooking that I do. I was minded carefully by mostly the mother of the house, and also by her mother (legend of a woman who not only was one of the best cooks I’ve ever met, but also taught me to play poker!) while my mother first went back to university. And while I was being minded, I had the privilege to witness some of the best cooking on the planet. My fingertips were perched on the edge of the chopping board (frequently I was reminded to move them or I may no longer own them), Their cooking smells infiltrated my whole spirit some days and it was another world from the one I lived in. I actually have written a short story about that childhood experience and have called it ‘The Country Next Door’ because that actually was exactly what it was to me, and a very big part of my life. I was also maliciously fed my first very, very tiny chilli pepper there by the daughter (older than myself)…..I don’t actually remember the heat, I just remember how much trouble she got into (ha) and an entire bowl of sugar being emptied down my throat, then a glass of milk, then bread (lots of adults in an absolute panic…probably because the chilli was hot enough to kill someone my age!)
Anyway, until I get that story published (!), I will reminisce slightly here at the flavours and aromas that occupy a part of my heart when it comes to this dish. This dish is the epitome of slow food, food prepared with love and some of the most flavour-filled food there is to be had on the earth. When you read this and look at the process, you will probably say “yeah, right….some day”, but I urge you to try it, because what results in cooking this dish is pure heaven. You needn’t make it into tacos, or burritos, or serve it with eggs…you need merely taste the final product out of the frying pan to set your eyes rolling back into your head, It is meat that has been cooked so long and in so many ways that the result is a textured sweetness. I remember clearly one day while cooking this for my restaurant, Danette’s Feast, (yes, I actually cooked this daily for the menu there!!) when Penny Lange of Ballinroan farm came in with a vegetable delivery and smelled the magic from the hallway exclaiming “WHAT are you cooking?!!”…I couldn’t wait to share it with her, knowing she was a true foodie too…(foodies love to share the experience btw) Luckily, I was at the final stage of stirring in the fresh coriander. I produced the forks and we produced the GPFRR (goose pimples for the right reasons!) while eating it. The texture (shredding by hand) is REALLY vital. Most recipes you see will say to shred using two forks….sorry, not the same. So many people overlook the fact that texture is paramount in eating…it’s part of the satiating process, and because there is the chew element in this produced by using brisket, it WORKS on all foodie levels. (btw, housekeeper’s cut isn’t the same either, it falls apart too much in the cooking and doesn’t retain that slightly stringy texture). Add to that, if you’re making tacos, the crunch of the fried corn tortilla, and the lighter crunch of the vinegar dressed salad (one of the few times I would use iceberg lettuce is in this salad just for the level of crunch), the fresh tomatoes in the salsa and the drip of the sour cream and onion dip. No one eats like this every day. I actually hadn’t made it since the Christmas before last when my brother Dennis, his daughter Kira and her very soon to be husband, Andrew were visiting. Trust my brother to ask me to make machaca two days after Christmas dinner! He knew I wouldn’t say no:-). But I did make a huge amount last Sunday (as you can see from the photo) and I’ve freezed most of the left-overs, so we can eat like this a little more often. (Haven’t forgotten Rosemary and Andy…your name is on some of it!!) Having it on the restaurant menu did mean I got to share it with a lot of appreciative people. So for you people, if you have cravings….read on!.. don’t say “no” and try it for yourself.How terribly sad if you’re vegetarian…just now anyway.
For the Machaca you will need: 5lbs. of Beef Brisket (unrolled, the thicker, the better) btw you can make less and adjust the other ingredients, as I said I was cooking for the freezer too; an Obscene amount of garlic, roughly 15 cloves, peeled and sliced into thick slivers; 2 onions, 2 carrots, 2 bay leaves, celery sprigs and or sticks, 1& 1/2 litres good beef stock., sea salt to taste and black pepper freshly milled.
For Frying Later: 4 Tablespoons sunflower oil, 2 large onions, chopped; 6 cloves of garlic (I know), grated , crushed or finely chopped, 4 Tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped, black pepper and maybe salt (taste first)
Lay the Brisket Beef flat in a deep roasting tray, and stud the brisket with garlic every half inch until all the meat is garlic filled.
Place the chopped vegetables and bay leaves in the tray and top with beef stock. Season with pepper and seal tightly with lid or kitchen foil. Bake in the oven 180 C for 1 hour, then reduce heat to 160 C and bake for a further 4 hours or until the meat easily pulls away from itself, pour off cooking juices and reserve for later use.Boy, that’s a lot quicker to blog-cook than to cook! While the meat is slowly cooking, prepare your accompaniments. For the Salsa Fresca you will need 1 &1/2 lbs. fresh, ripe tomatoes finely chopped (if you can’t find good, sweet tomatoes then use tinned tomatoes), 4-5 scallions, also finely chopped, 2 cloves garlic, grated on microplane or crushed, fresh chillies to your taste (if you don’t like heat you can de-seed them, but I think this dish can take quite a lot of heat so I use 2 chillies with seeds. , 2 Tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped. 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice, a shake or two of red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Chop and mix together in a dish. Leave for at least an hour for flavours to mingle.For the sour cream and onion dip take 200mls sour cream and combine with 2 teaspoons cider vinegar, 2 chopped scallions, 1 clove garlic, minced salt and pepper. Also combine in a bowl and let flavours mingle,
For the guacamole, mash a ripe avocado with a fork, add lime juice to taste (avocados vary greatly. Always try to purchase the Haas variety which has a bumpy skin, it has a nuttier flavour and in fact just has more flavour full stop. Add a little lime juice at a time until the flavour of the avocado rises). I like to add 2 Tablespoons of the salsa fresca and a little more coriander, salt and pepper. (forgot to photograph this until the end….sorry).
Prepare a salad using mostly leaves. (You can chop them, which isn’t usually recommended, just so they will fit into the taco shells). Also prepare a vinaigrette dressing or buy mine!!!
Shallow fry the soft corn tortillas in sunflower or rapeseed oil until crispy. I use a tongs to hold the shape of the taco and make the opening half-moon as wide as possible so they will hold as much as possible!Drain on kitchen paper/towel and set aside.
Now comes the fun part. Pour yourself a drink and wrap a kitchen towel or tissue around the glass , or grab a straw. (hehe, no point having a drink slip out of your hand onto the floor). Telephone a friend(!) and pour them a drink too. Place newspaper on the table (yes, it is messy) and the baking tray on top of that. Pull off a chunk of the cooked brisket and with thumb and index finger of both hands separate the meat by the strips of its grain. Have a nice conversation while doing this, because it will take some time. This is when a crowd comes in handy! The most fun we had doing this was in Los Angeles with Christy,Owen, Kristin, Keith, Pam and “shred”. (I had agreed to make machaca if they shredded…it was finished in no time at all). Also, there are good shredders and bad shredders. I am known to frequently say, “that’s too thick, make it thinner”, but I have to say David is the best shredder of all. He never cheats like my brother Dennis, who always insists what is in his mouth is fat!! (“I swear, that bit was fat”…yeah, right). When all the meat is shredded place it on a chopping board and cut it into 1” chunks, which makes it easier to eat when in a taco.
Heat the oil in a deep frying pan over medium-low heat. Add the chopped onions, and cook for 5-8 minutes or until soft. Add the brisket, stir and turn the heat up slightly. When the meat begins to brown on the bottom of the pan add the cooking stock, ladle at a time to the pan and cook until the liquid is absorbed.
is used- up. Add the freshly chopped coriander and cook for a further minute or two (don’t overcook at this point or you will lose the flavour of the coriander). Taste and season more if necessary. Should taste like heaven, if not, adjust!
Place the tacos on a plate and top with salsa fresca first, then guacamole, then salad and finally sour cream and onion dip. Grab several napkins or kitchen towels and stretch the mouth to accommodate! Should be GPFRR!